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Eastern Memories Review

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Eastern Memories Review

Roger Shagawat, Culture Vulture

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Eastern Memories is a documentary film following the journey of G.J. Ramstedt, a 19th century linguist and researcher, set to images of modern day East Asia.

This film is an hour and a half long and it is one of the most boring movies I have ever seen. It was difficult to get through the whole thing without falling asleep, especially with its long breaks from narration to focus on a monk walking through a garden. The story of Ramstedt is far from exciting. He spent time in four countries:  Mongolia, Japan, and briefly, Korea and China. I would recommend watching this movie in bite sized chunks at home maybe trying to get through the whole thing in a day or two.

That being said, this was a great examination of Eastern culture. Ramstedt is able to connect Western audiences to a culturally opposite world through his love of Mongolia. Often, Ramstedt quotes his own conversations with Mongolians, placing the viewer into Ramstedt’s shoes. Mongolia is a culturally diverse land where two strangers meeting on the steppe, would conduct a greeting ceremony helping each other, the steppe was nothing like western Europe, being barely affected by it culturally, ethnically or religiously. While Ramstedt writes about this beautiful world, he is juxtaposed by modern images of Mongolia. As Ramstedt delves into the philosophy of a world without ownership of land, the audience is shown the fenced off suburbs of modern Mongolia in the same place Ramstedt was 100 years prior. When he talks about the strange complex language of the Mongolians we are shown a gas station with Cyrillic letters. When Ramstedt talks about the few people who live in Mongolia and the horses they use to traverse the plains, we see a city with cars running up and down the dense urban environment.

Ramstedt’s journal is occasionally broken up by modern day Mongolians, presumably people the linguist may have met had he been travelling in modern Mongolia. We meet a monk, a boy, and a rapper, all of which were provided with the story of Ramstedt and then told to give their reactions. The rappers talk about the subtlety of the Mongolian language and how the meaning of a word can be changed depending on the context. The monk talks about how Ramstedt was considered a bad historian because he only knew the past and could not predict the future.

The intelligence of this movie is seeing the complex change that took place in Asia over the last 100 years. In western civilization, a lot has changed between the 1890s and today, Asia has been completely revolutionized. All the people Ramstedt has met have died, the culture he encountered is near non-existent. Western culture has swept through Asia, especially Japan. This movie is eye opening to someone who knows little about Eastern history. I would highly recommend this movie if you want an introduction to Asian history. If you like to over analyze small details in films I would recommend this documentary. If you just want a casual viewing to learn a little about another culture however, there are better documentaries.

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